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Sunderland has scooped a £25m boost for its high street, it has been revealed. 

The Government has named 72 high streets that will receive a share of a £831m recovery fund designed to stimulate the recovery of town and city centres following the pandemic.  Sunderland, along with Swindon, is to get the most money - £25m each – which will be used to build on Sunderland City Council’s Riverside Sunderland development, which includes the former Vaux Brewery site and High Street West.  

Sunderland City Council’s bid to Government to secure the funding set out a number of priority projects including:

  • The development of Culture House, ‘the UK’s best library’
  • Leisure spaces at Crowtree Place
  • Remodelling St Mary’s Boulevard to connect the heart of the city to its riverside
  • Refurbishment of Elephant Tea Rooms Building, providing ground floor commercial units and residential units on upper floors 
  • Fit-out of retail units within Keel Sq Hotel.

The £25m – awarded through the Future High Streets Fund – will be used to leverage further private sector investment and council funding.  In all, it is hoped this funding will unlock £78m of investment to deliver on the priority projects, which - alongside Legal & General’s £100m commitment to the city centre and that of other investors developing in the area - will bring about a step change in the heart of Sunderland.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “We have been ploughing ahead with our plans to boost the city centre over the last 18 months, and – despite the challenges of the pandemic – we have not lost any momentum.  

“This announcement of more funding will provide an additional boost as we look forward to 2021.  We’re determined to deliver on our vision for the city centre, anchored by Riverside Sunderland.  Our plans will regenerate the whole area, with the benefits of this new urban quarter spilling out to the whole city centre.

“The focus is on bricks and mortar – on creating new spaces that will attract footfall to the city, giving our  businesses and traders an opportunity to tap into the spending power of these visitors”

He added: “This year has been incredibly tough for our city centre, and high streets up and down the country, but there is real cause for optimism, with investment flooding into the heart of the city, which will absolutely transform it for generations to come.”

Sharon Appleby, head of business operations at Sunderland Business Improvement District (BID), said: “This is a phenomenal announcement and cements what – despite the huge challenges of COVID – has been an incredible year for the city.  

“The amount of positive news coming out of the city centre is unprecedented – millions and millions of pounds of investment, and a clear vision that will transform the area.  It’s such an exciting time for Sunderland and I look forward to working with the council and with our traders to ensure we seize the benefits this will bring.”

The news is the latest in a long line of positive investment announcements to come out of Sunderland city centre in recent weeks.  

In October, the council revealed ambitions to create a world-class new place to live, work and play at  Riverside Sunderland in a plan that set out plans to deliver:

  • One million sq ft of modern office space, in a new central business district, providing 8-10,000 new jobs
  • a new city centre site for a major life sciences / healthcare facility
  • Plans for a state-of-the-art library and community hub – the Culture House - that will attract 600,000 visitors a year to a new site in Keel Square
  • The upgrading of St Mary’s Boulevard into a stylish new main street
  • Transformation of Galley’s Gill into a superb landscape park, and new green spaces in the heart of the city
  • A ‘smart bridge’ that will connect both sides of the river, featuring light installations and VR to deliver engaging experiences for pedestrians and cyclists that cross it
  • Smart City infrastructure, that will make Sunderland an even better place to live, work and play.

As well as plans for the Riverside Sunderland area, the council announced at the end of November that it is looking to deliver a £27m improvement programme focused on the train station, including demolition and reconstruction of a new southern concourse to improve the welcome point for visitors travelling by train.

Other positive developments include new leisure venues, retail hubs and public spaces that are taking shape in the city centre, including a 120-room Holiday Inn Hotel on Keel Square; a 450-seater Auditorium, that is under construction in the city’s Minster Quarter; a £1.9m regeneration programme – supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Sunderland City Council – that has funded major improvements to nearby Town Park, along with improvements to historic buildings like the Dun Cow and Peacock and improvements to Mackie’s Corner, which will also gradually become home to more retail and commercial businesses, after being taken over by a Sunderland developer.  The historic Elephant Tearooms is also reawakening, as a Local History Library and old buildings are being brought back to life, including Gilbridge Police Station and the River Wear Commissioners Building, to create exciting new business spaces that will attract more new jobs to Sunderland.  

This will all be bolstered by the addition of City Hall to the Riverside Sunderland quarter.  City Hall will be home to some 2,000 employees from a range of public sector and support organisations, including Sunderland City Council.  And in December, plans to develop two more office buildings were given the green light.  

The improvements to Riverside Sunderland are part of a plan to boost the number of people living and working in the heart of the city, creating a stronger daytime and evening economy.  Sunderland City Council bosses have said that the emerging Riverside Sunderland project will double the resident population of the city centre from 2,500 to 5,000 and increase employment by 50% to 18,000.

Cllr Miller added: “We are pushing forward with our plans at lightning pace to ensure that the benefits are felt as quickly as possible, and that we drive a step change in the city centre.  

“This additional funding is a boost, and will give investors yet-more confidence that we are a city to watch – one that will deliver on its promise and realise its vast potential, driven by a council that is firmly future-focused.”

To find out more about Riverside Sunderland, and to keep up to date with the latest developments, visit www.riversidesunderland.com.